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McGrew's undesigned coincidences in the Bible

Tim McGrew
Western Michigan University

An undesigned coincidence happens when one part of the Bible is missing a detail that leaves us scratching our heads, and another part of the Bible (a part authored by someone else), or a text external to the Bible, without collusion, supplies that missing detail. It is a test for historical authenticity revived recently by Dr. Tim McGrew, a philosophy professor at Western Michigan University.

Examples from here:

#1: Matthew 26:67-68 Why ask him to tell them who slapped him? Luke 22:64 They blindfolded him.

#2: Mark 6:31 Why are many coming and going? John 6:4 The Passover pilgrimage.

#3: Matthew 8:14-16 Why in the evening? Mark 1:21 Sabbath over at evening (cannot bear burden).

#4: Luke 9:36 Why did they keep silent? Mark 9:9 Jesus told them to tell no one (most consistently disobeyed command, lol).

#5: John 6:5 Why pick Philip? Luke 9:10 The setting of the miracle is Bethsaida, Philip’s “hometown” (John 1:44). (And see #17.)

#6: Bauckham: Names in NT are independently, statistically shown to be in very good accord w/ the frequency w/ which Jews named their children these names in Palestine. Most common male name: Simon. Second most common: Some variant on Joshua/Jesus. In Alexandria, most common name: Sabbatheus—no such character in NT.

#7: John 21:15 Why ask “…more than these?”Matthew 26:33 “Though they all fall away…I will never fall away.” In John 21:16 Peter is done boasting and just says “Lord, you know that I love you.” Beautiful!

#8: Luke 23:1-4 Why Pilate find no guilt in Jesus? John 18:36 “My kingdom is not of this world.”
Also, John never mentions the charge against him, but Luke fills in the detail.

#9: Matthew 2:22 Why does Archelaus’s reign spook Joseph? Why Galilee? Josephus’ Antiquities, Book 17: Archelaus sends troops into the temple and kills 3,000 Jews…Passover cancelled. The Jews Joseph meets in Matthew 2 are fleeing this. Galilee under control of Herod Antipas.

From here:

#1, #3, #4, #5, #7, #8

From here:

#4, #3, #5, #7, #8, #2, #9

#10: Matthew 14:1-2 Why is Herod speaking about this to his servants? Luke 8:3 Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager/steward. Herod knows that if he’s got questions about Jesus, talk to his Christian servants. Acts 13:1 Manaen had been brought up with Herod the Tetrarch.

From here:

#11: Mark 14:57-58 Mark 15:29 People mock him for saying he would destroy the temple. He never says that in Mark. John 2:18-19 Jesus says, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

#9

#12 Luke 3:14 Why active-duty soldiers in a time of peace? Josephus: Herod Antipas got in trouble with his wife’s father when he fooled around with his brother’s wife, so he had a border war on the southeastern flank of his territory. Jordan river runs southward.

#13 Luke 3:2 Two high priests? Josephus: Book 18, Chapter 2 of Antiquities … one high priest by right (ruling through his sons), one high priest by Roman appointment. The Jewish War Book 2 Chapter 12 Section 6 “both” Jonathan and Ananias.

#14 Luke’s census. Two problems: 1) No record Caesar Augustus taxed whole Roman empire. 2) Quirinius was governor in 6 a.d., not 6 b.c..Answer: “all the world” is Judea (same idea in Acts 11:28…Greek word means “the region in interest”…there is no word “Roman” in the Greek). The taxation is a registration or enrollment, not an actual taxation. “This was made” means “set in motion”. Read this way: “This first tax was put in use a dozen years later.” Also possible Quirinius had two stints as a governor. (See also Cheney's comment here, section 10.)

#15 Luke 20:24-25 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” Look at Roman denarius. Not only does it have Tiberius Caesar’s face, but the inscription promotes worship of the previous Caesar. Jesus says “Render to Caesar that which is Caesar’s. Render to God that which is God’s.” In other words, the previous Caesar is not God, and this coinage with a ‘graven image’ is not ‘of God’.

#16 John 5:2 Are the 5 porches a literary device? Archaeology says no—it’s real. Also, John says “Now, there IS…” which means he must be writing pre-75 A.D. (before the destruction).

Via email 9/23/11:

#17 "This one just occurred to me: Matthew 11:21 -- 'Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.' What mighty works in Bethsaida? Matthew gives us no clue; this is the only time he ever mentions Bethsaida. Nor can Mark help us here, nor John. But turn to Luke 9:10 -- On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. ... and then comes the feeding of the 5000." (See #5.)

Tim mentions these books, most/all available at historicalapologetics.org:

John James Blunt's "Undesigned Coincidences"
William Paley's "Horae Paulinae" and “A view of the evidences of Christianity” (part 2)
Edmund Hatch Bennett's "The Four Gospels from a Lawyers' Standpoint
Nathaniel Lardner “Credibility of the Gospel history” (17 volumes—have at it!)

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